Sound Matters: Soundtracks
From playing piano with his cabaret musician grandfather, collaborating with Nils Frahm and Kim Gordon, to creating the soundtrack for Bang & Olufsen’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection, musician and composer August Rosenbaum listens out for new ideas, experiencing new sounds, and keeping his eyes on the horizon.
In the home of Danish pianist, composer and arranger August Rosenbaum is a piano. Its once-brown wood is now bleached by the sun, as for years it sat in the sunlit living room of his grandfather, a cabaret musician, entertainer, and artist. From when Rosenbaum was five years old, the two generations would sit alongside each other on the piano stool, the younger fascinated by the black and white keys and, as he puts it, “playing – like a game. That piano is where it all started for me.”
This creative start, no matter his time in “the mill of schooling” at music college and the conservatory, has informed the playful, experimental nature of Rosenbaum's work. He's released soundtracks, collaborated with Nils Frahm and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, written a ballet with Danish artist Jesper Just, won the Danish Music Award, while his debut solo jazz album, Beholder, was nominated for the prestigious Nordic Music Prize in 2010.
After those early beginnings with his grandfather, Rosenbaum says that his continuing relationship with the piano consists of “love-hate transitions”, appreciating that while its combinations of notes are potentially limitless, the instrument is not without restrictions: “I’ve been circling around it, at times very frustrated with the limitations”
August Rosenbaum – In the studio
To try and broaden its scope Rosenbaum follows the lead of John Cage and others, modifying his piano by putting things into the body of the instrument, be that nuts and bolts, metal, wood, rubber. It's all part of an approach to his practice that sees him looking and listening beyond jazz to take inspiration from perhaps unexpected places. “I’ve been confused by these labels, of this and that genre,” he says, “the more that I've been around in these corners of music I really don’t see the difference. And I think that’s a really good place to be.”
These inspirations might include the low-frequency bass emanations of guitarist Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))), Japanese Gagaku music – he has bought some hichiriki flutes in order to learn to play them – while his increasing interest in synthesisers has been inspired by French composer Éliane Radigue. Those inspirations are always filtered through the simple, human interaction of “sparring with my musical friends, and finding new things. I'm a sponge for new input.”
Rosenbaum also enjoys having a practice that can reach between commercial work, soundtracks, theatre performance and improvisation. “I try to take my own ideas of experimentation and bring that to a more popular field,” he explains; “it’s very much a game of jumping back and forth between stones, and taking inspiration from all of these fields.”
When it comes to his output, Rosenbaum says that he's long been interested in exploring how his music might also create images, even memories, in the mind of his listeners. This, he says, is at the core of the creative process for his next album, being written with his friend, music producer Roland Hannibal. “I wanted to try and see what happens when you make the music on its own first and try to load this kind of visual core into it, or this imagery, try to make the music appeal to the visual sense without actually having images,” he says. For the Bang & Olufsen SS18 soundtrack, Rosenbaum describes his inspiration being the “nature of the sea, this mass where you don’t even know what’s in there… that ranges from a very turbulent and deadly place, to also being very calm and hopeful.”
This, like that sun-bleached piano passed down his family, connects to his past. Rosenbaum recalls visits to his father's family in a little fishing town in Jutland and his early experience of the vastness of the North Sea: “it’s so big, and it makes you feel a certain way – I don't recall having those emotions anywhere else than when you’re standing next to, like, a big sea with roaring waves. It’s a very cleansing experience.” Rosenbaum believes that keeping one eye on the past as well as embracing new sounds, new technologies, is key to keeping himself grounded as his music moves forward. “Search your attics, the attics or your basements, for old things. And keep an interest in history, an interest in your family who came before you, what they did.”
Rosenbaum was commissioned to create the soundtrack for Bang & Olufsen's Spring/Summer 2018 collection, on the theme of waves and the sea, and the resonant dynamics of water.
Rosenbaum's latest album, Vista is out now on the Tambourhinoceros label. Find out more about all his projects at augustrosenbaum.com